Fleet News

SEAT Ibiza

SEAT

Review

EXPECTATIONS are high for the new SEAT Ibiza. This could be the car that breaks the Spanish manufacturer into serious contention in the British market.

With three trim levels and six engines from launch in May, three petrol and three diesel, plus the promise of hotter versions to follow, SEAT reckons there will be an Ibiza for almost everyone.

Under the skin, the Ibiza shares floorpan and suspension with Volkswagen's new Polo and the excellent Skoda Fabia. But unlike its sensible sisters, the SEAT has been optimised to provide drivers with sporting dynamics, meaning hard springs and firm dampers.

Three cars were available to drive on the launch, a 1.4-litre petrol unit (16 valves, 100bhp) and two VW group pump düse (PD) diesels (100bhp and the range-topping 130bhp). We started off in the PD130 diesel.

First impressions are good. Build quality feels high, and the seating position is comfortable and surrounded by well-positioned controls. It doesn't feel like a SEAT, particularly, thanks in equal part to a fit-and-finish quality beyond your brand-derived expectations and the fact the cabin is filled with switchgear familiar to anyone who has sat in a Volkswagen or Audi.

Despite being a diesel, the PD130 is the range's undoubted performance champion, and certain to remain so this side of the inevitable turbocharged petrol versions.

And as you'd imagine, the same engine as fitted to top-end diesel Passats makes the Ibiza a seriously fast car, especially when it comes to the real-world business of overtaking, thanks to a whopping 229lb-ft of torque from just 1,900rpm.

A standard six-speed gearbox gives plenty of options and makes for easy cruising, sixth equalling 37mph at 1,000rpm.

SEAT is being pushed as the VW Group's accessible, sporty brand, hence the Ibiza has been given massively firmer springs and dampers than Polo or Fabia. This, it quickly transpires, is unfortunate as the PD130's ride quality (admittedly wearing upgraded 16-inch alloys) is poor.

It becomes intolerable in town and almost as bad in wide open spaces as the car follows every camber and crashes over every stone. And it's not a great handler, either.

The heavy steering feels promising (it uses a new electro-hydraulic assistance system), but it loses the plot in corners, failing to communicate any change in the front tyres' grip. The heavy turbodiesel engine also gets the front pushing wide surprisingly early on tighter bends. This is no sports car.

Fortunately, further down the range, the Ibiza's case improves dramatically. The 1.4 16-valve petrol model we drove was in the higher 100bhp state of tune (there will also be a 75bhp version), and quickly proves itself a far sweeter car thanks to softer springs and dampers plus standard 15-inch steel wheels.

Ride quality is certainly class comparable and, like the Fabia, refinement is excellent thanks to a well-optimised NVH (noise vibration harshness) kit.

The petrol engine still has to be worked hard to make decent progress, though, and acceleration has been bought at the expense of some extremely short gearing. It's no better than the PD in corners, though.

Verdict

The latest Ibiza is a big improvement on the previous generation: it's better to look at, it's better to drive and, for the first time, it's in serious contention with the rest of the segment. On dynamic grounds it would be hard to recommend over the smooth Skoda Fabia, certainly with the abrasively harsh 'Sport' suspension.

But this is SEAT which is now the value brand in the VW Group and if the Ibiza's pricing reflects that, then it should meet with deserved success.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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